Newsletter from U4U : January 2018 – n°59
The Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources met with the Commission trade unions before the Christmas holidays. Such meetings, initiated by VP Georgieva and formalised by the present commissioner, have been positive. They enable regular exchanges on a variety of topics of importance to staff.
Among the topics addressed in December, we should note the information concerning the EU budget for 2018/2019/2020: this will remain stable, although there is an element of latitude for the staff policy, as the sums provided for under category 5 have not all been used up.
As regards Brexit, the guarantees given to our British colleagues have been reaffirmed. The negotiations with the United Kingdom have avoided potentially critical slip-ups; the UK’s financial commitments to the EU budget have been guaranteed up to 2023/2024 so as to honour the commitments made for the current programming period. See the invitation to British staff to meet the Commissioner.
For the future, some major uncertainties remain, strengthened by certain political developments among the Member States and by the prospect of European Parliament elections in 2019. Would the present Parliament have enough political credit to negotiate, before the end of its term, a budget that is equal to the challenges faced? Leaving the Commission’s wishes to one side, will the Member States want to make a last-minute decision on the future EU budget, as they did in 2013?
The Commission plans to propose a budget representing between 1% and 1.5% of the GDP of the Union (probably 1.2%, as opposed to 0.94 today), which, in absolute figures, and in the context of Brexit, would represent a reduction in the budget. This would result in certain policies being reconsidered, for example the agricultural policy or, in part, the cohesion policy, while others would be strengthened; new policies would emerge. The question also arises of a potential proportional reduction in operating costs (category V).
However, it remains to be seen whether, with the new reduced budget, the EU will be in a position to "catch the wind in its sails", as mentioned by our President in his speech to the European Parliament. At present, we have no clear vision of the political ambition underlying the Commission’s thoughts on this subject.
Let us hope that future meetings will help us to see more clearly. Let us also hope that the economic bright spell our Union is experiencing will result in margins that will help to avoid the past mistakes of a reduced budget.
We must stop presenting the European budget as a direct debit when it is actually an investment opportunity for us to realise together rather than separately. Who better than the Commission to explain this to European society?
For the third year running, the pay adjustment system will operate on the basis of the Staff Regulations (art. 65 of the Staff Regulations1).
While it is good news for staff – the increase is 1.5%, cumulative from July 2017 – this adjustment should not be seen as a gift, as it is based on changes in the purchasing power of the national civil services and the data provided by the Member States themselves. The goal is to maintain the principle of parallelism between the pay of EU agents and that of national officials.
The mechanism is based on two indicators. The first measures changes in the pay of national officials, not including inflation (specific indicator). The second comprises a composite measurement of inflation in Brussels and Luxembourg, according to the official indicators that measure prices in Belgium and the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, although it must be noted that they do not fully reflect the prices in Brussels and Luxembourg city.
Furthermore, we must point out here that the four-year pay freeze (2011 to 2014) resulted in all EU officials and agents losing 12.3%2 of their purchasing power compared to the national civil services, which lost only 3.7% over the same period, according to EUROSTAT calculations. This is therefore a significant breach of the principle of the parallelism of purchasing power between the European civil service and the national civil services. These losses are not recoverable and will increase throughout the careers of every one of us, and even have an impact on our pensions.
Consequently, the implementation of the pay adjustment system, for the third consecutive year, is very important in order to maintain the purchasing power of staff, even if it does not make it possible to recover the 12.3% lost as a result of the actions of the Member States, who, since the end of the 1990s, have unceasingly attacked one of the symbols of European integration, the European Civil Service.
On 17 November 2017, during the Social Summit at Gothenburg (Sweden), the leaders of the European union solemnly proclaimed the European pillar of social rights. On this occasion, the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker stated (extracts):
“his is a landmark moment for Europe. Our Union has always been a social project at heart. It is more than just a single market, more than money, more than the euro. It is about our values and the way we want to live. The European social model has been a success story and has made Europe a world-class place to live and work. Today we assert our common values and commit ourselves to a set of 20 principles and rights […]
The Pillar – and Europe‘s social dimension as a whole – will only be as strong as we allow it to be. This is a joint responsibility and it starts at national, regional and local level, with a key role for social partners and civil society. Therefore, while fully respecting and embracing the different approaches which exist across Europe, we all now need to turn commitments into action. Europeans deserve nothing less.”
Fine words, but what about the practical application of these principles by the Institution that has developed this social pillar, namely the European Commission?
Among these 20 key principles, numbers 5, 6 and 12 in particular stand out in regard to the working conditions of some of our colleagues, whether or not they work under the Staff Regulations as local Agents or service providers, like language teachers, for example:
• 5. Secure and adaptable employment: Regardless of the type and duration of the employment relationship, workers have the right to fair and equal treatment regarding working conditions, access to social protection and training. The transition towards open-ended forms of employment shall be fostered (…) Employment relationships that lead to precarious working conditions shall be prevented, including by prohibiting abuse of atypical contract.
• 6. Salaries: Workers have the right to fair wages that provide for a decent standard of living: adequate minimum wages shall be ensured, in a way that provide for the satisfaction of the needs of the worker and his / her family in the light of national economic and social conditions, whilst safeguarding access to employment and incentives to seek work. In-work poverty shall be prevented.
• 12. Social protection: Regardless of the type and duration of their employment relationship, workers, and, under comparable conditions, the self-employed, have the right to adequate social protection.
Brexit : An agreement for the long-term coverage of our pension fund
In note 9 (page 11) of the Joint report from the negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government on progress during phase 1 of negotiations under Article 50 TEU, we can note the following encouraging wording : "The UK’s share of the liability related to pension and other post-employment benefits for Union staff and staff from the European Defence Agency, the European Union Institute for Security Studies and the European Union Satellite Centre as established on 31 December 2020 will be paid when these amounts fall due, unless an earlier schedule is agreed."
These are good news, calming down the nervousness about the future of our pension fund in the context of Brexit, although U4U has always maintained that our pensions are a differed salary paid out of a notional (virtual) fund that is guaranteed by all the Member States. It is fair that a State leaving the EU continues to bear the responsibility of its past commitments, but seen from the Staff perspective, our pensions are a right covered by the EU as a whole, notwithstanding the nationality of the beneficiaries.
See also :
Impact of Brexit on the legal status of European Union officials and other
servants of British nationality
The number of relay antennae is increasing in the European quarter. Staff were recently concerned by the installation of 27 new antennae at LOI 89. Although this building is not occupied by the institutions, it is situated directly opposite. These 27 antennae supplement 30 antennae that are already located just a few metres away. The permit to install does not appear to have taken account of the cumulative impact of the exterior and interior antennae (Wi-Fi networks) of the Commission’s buildings in the Rue de la Loi that have to cope with the future antennae to which the staff will be exposed.
As a result of U4U’s action in warning the administration and the DGs occupying the buildings concerned, the Commission decided to measure the current emission levels inside and outside of the buildings, so as to have baseline levels for comparison when the antennae have been installed.
In U4U’s opinion, checking compliance with the maximum emission levels after the antennae have been installed is not a good idea, as it will be harder to have them taken out of service.
U4U has started a petition, signed by hundreds of colleagues working in the exposed buildings, asking the Commission to observe the precautionary principle set out in Directive 2013/35 EU. The Commission must conduct a pre-installation analysis that takes all the parameters into account to check that the maximum emission levels stipulated by the legislation (Belgian in this case) will not be exceeded, and inform staff accordingly.
If the Appointing Authority was in a position to communicate the value of the pension rights acquired at the date of registration of the application (year N), and if it transferred an updated amount of the interest payable for the period between the date the application was made and the actual transfer date (year N+X), then article 7, paragraph 1 of the GIP does not allow the Commission to apply a deduction of 3.1% of the capital transferred.
In this case, "Allowing the Commission to make a deduction in favour of the EU budget on the capital representing the pension rights acquired by the petitioner on the date of registration of the transfer application would result in an unjustified appropriation by that institution of part of the national pension rights disposed of through the transfer, which effectively belong to the official according to the case law, and therefore in an unjust enrichment in favour of the European Union."
That is how the Court explained its judgement in the case involving an official who had been the subject of a deduction of 3.1% on a sum for which the body holding it had given the PMO an updated amount at the date of registration of the application, and transferred an increased amount of interest due after the official accepted its offer.
U4U believes this is excellent news for colleagues in the process of transferring pension rights, as this Court judgement will enable an incorrect practice to be corrected.
In January 2015, new screening programmes were implemented that were fully reimbursed by JSIS. These programmes involved fewer medical examinations than in the past. They were heavily criticised by those using the service. In 2016, the PMO saw a 40% drop in their consumption, in other words, a matter of concern in terms of the prevention policy. When these programmes were approved at the end of 2014, the Sickness Insurance Management Committee (SIMC), concerned about the withdrawal of some examinations, allowed for the possibility of revising them, if necessary; which the PMO has been doing since the results of their first evaluation were revealed.
The Medical Council therefore presented new screening programmes, drawing lessons from the previous failure, at a plenary meeting of the SIMC on 22 November 2017. These newly designed programmes are based on the anamnesis, i.e. the case history, the information provided by the member about his/her previous illnesses or hereditary risks. This makes screening for risks much easier and means that the relevant examinations can be booked.
However, these new programmes are yet to be approved, pending further information about their cost and how they can be combined with the mandatory annual medical check-ups required by article 59 of the Staff Regulations. Accordingly, the representatives of the Medical Council said they would also review the examinations carried out within the framework of the annual medical check-up, principally, but not exclusively, to prevent duplication. Duplicating the examinations obviously makes no sense, but we must ensure that enhancing the screening programmes does not mean cutting back on medical check-ups and possibly transferring the expenditure from the pocket of the employer to the pocket of the staff insurance scheme.
With the new programmes being more expensive as they are more comprehensive, we must ensure that the extra costs incurred do not become a pretext for cutbacks on other aspects of the scheme, particularly as it is operating in surplus and a good prevention policy should enable future savings on health care.
Preventive medical check-ups and screening are two prevention tools that overlap and are often confused, although they have different procedures and objectives:
• The annual preventive medical check-up is aimed at members still working in the institutions; it is one way of meeting every employer’s obligation to ensure the good health of his/her staff. It is the responsibility of the medical service. It is conducted by the institution’s doctors or, alternatively, by an external doctor, paid for in full by the employer (using the SIMC application online). It is also a requirement imposed on each agent by article 59 of the Staff Regulations.
• Screening is aimed at all JSIS beneficiaries. Its goal, as its name suggests, is the early and systematic identification of certain illnesses by means of a standardised programme, paid for in full by JSIS.
The annual preventive medical check-up is therefore an occupational health tool, while screening is rather a matter of public health.
The early detection of a condition substantially improves the chances of recovery, let us never forget.
Prevention is essential for everyone. In 2018, make an appointment right now for your annual medical check-up.
The elections of the EUIPO staff committee have just ended. U4U put up 6 candidates for 7 seats to be filled. Our 6 colleagues were all elected. With the Chairperson leaving the Staff Committee, the Vice-Chair, also from U4U, was re-elected by the most voters.
This result recognises the local work of our colleagues in Alicante as well as the action of U4U which, after concluding a framework agreement with the EUIPO management, negotiated ambitious training and social measures for the most vulnerable staff. Bravo to the EUIPO team in Alicante!
U4U is an active union, working on behalf of colleagues through its workplace meetings, not only in Brussels, and present in negotiations with the administration. We have an informative and up-to-date website, we publish regular newsletters, systematically translated into English, we defend you individually before the administration and before the Civil Service Tribunal.
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